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The F-35A Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters can take to the skies with the Military Flight Release issued last February 28. The multi-million jet fighters has been stuck with test flights until the US Air Force Aeronautical System Center issued MFR. Now, the F-35A JSF can perform initial operations at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Previously, all F-35A flights were limited to the test flights done by a select number of qualified test pilots at the Edwards Air Base in California and Naval Air Station Patuxent River flight test centers. Units of F-35A started arriving at the Eglin AFB in the summer of 2011, but stayed grounded while waiting for the MFR. Qualified Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots can now fly the jet fighters starting with the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) F-35A variant. Before the MFR clearance, these pilots can only perform taxi test and simulator flights, but could not fly the F-35A to the skies.
An airworthiness board assessed and evaluated the potential risks and corresponding remedial action for unmonitored flights of the F-3A, before issuing the MFR. The Air Force looks forward to finally see the F-35A Lightning II in the air. This will increase the pilots and maintenance staff familiarity with the aircraft, exercising the logistics infrastructure as well as develop the continued maturity of the aircraft.
“The Air Force, Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and other stakeholders have painstakingly followed established risk acceptance and mitigation processes to ensure the F-35A is ready. This is an important step for the F-35A and we are confident the team has diligently balanced the scope of initial operations with system maturity,” said General Donald Hoffman, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, the parent organization of ASC.
The Eglin Air Force Bas has two qualified F-35A test pilots. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith and Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann will act as the initial trainers for the rest of the pilots at the 33rd Fighter Wing.
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon estimates that it will still cost about $1 trillion to operate a fleet of 2,443 F-35 fighter jets over the next 50 years, but is continuing to analyze how to drive that staggering sum down, a top U.S. Marine Corps official told Reuters.
Lieutenant General Terry Robling, deputy Marine Corps commandant for aviation, said top defense officials agreed last week to continue low-rate production of the new radar-evading warplane built by Lockheed Martin Corp, while keeping a close eye on the cost of maintaining and operating the new jets.
“Everybody was on board with … the program,” Robling told Reuters aboard a military aircraft on Saturday after a ceremony involving three F-35B jets at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. “We understand the costs are high. We understand that we need to do something, we need to make decisions down the road.”
Robling said the cost estimate would likely decline in coming years as more jets were built and flown, reducing the reliance on comparison data from other aircraft programs.
Unless the estimates do come down substantially, the Pentagon may have to decide to buy fewer airplanes, reduce the number of anticipated flight hours, or skip adding certain capabilities to the plane, Robling said, although he noted that decision point could still be five to 10 years off.
The estimated cost just to develop and buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is around $382 billion, but that number could increase somewhat when the Pentagon reports the cost of its major acquisition programs to Congress next month.
Defense officials say the cost of the program will increase somewhat since the Pentagon is postponing orders for 179 planes for five years to allow more testing and limit the number of costly retrofits to already produced planes.
The delays and budget pressures at home are prompting eight international partners who are helping fund the F-35 development — Britain, Italy, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Canada and the Netherlands — to rethink their orders as well.
-more at wtvr.com
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Acting Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall says it was “acquisition malpractice” to approve production of the Lockheed Martin F-35 years before the first flight of the single-engine stealthy fighter occurred.
“It should not have been done,” Kendall told an audience Feb. 6 hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “But we did it.”
Then-procurement chief Kenneth Krieg approved the first lot of production in 2006. The contract for long-lead articles came in April 2006 for low-rate initial production Lot 1, and that aircraft rolled off of the production line in 2008.
At the time, program executives, including the incoming director of the program, Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, argued that swift entry into production was of paramount importance to aggressively ramp up production numbers quickly, thereby attaining a low per-unit cost as quickly as possible.
Davis, now a three-star general, commands the Air Force’s Electronic Systems Center, which has oversight of such key programs as the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program and the next-generation space surveillance fence. He and Lockheed Martin executives also contended that the use of new modeling and design tools dramatically diminished the likelihood of major problems being discovered in flight testing that could prompt a costly redesign.
Kendall, who is the acting procurement czar awaiting Senate approval, takes issue with that view.
“What we are seeing is that the optimistic predictions when we started the production of the F-35—that we now have good enough design tools and good enough simulation and modeling that we wouldn’t have to worry about finding things in test—were wrong,” Kendall said. “We are finding problems in all three of the variants that are the types of things, historically in a state-of-the-art, next-generation fighter aircraft, you are going to find, where our design tools are not perfect.”
These include so-called structural hot spots on all three F-35 variants that have yet to be fully understood or addressed. Today, the program has achieved only 20% of its flight-test program, and Pentagon procurement officials have sharply reduced the purchase numbers in recent years to curtail the potential of discovering major problems in testing that would cause a redesign and retrofit of a growing fleet.
This problem, dubbed “concurrency,” is frustrating senior Pentagon leaders because of its unknown scope. During an interview last year with Aviation Week, JSF program executive Vice Adm. David Venlet said the real risk of encountering major concurrency cost is retired around 2015 if testing goes as planned.
Meanwhile, after contentious discussions last year, he and Lockheed Martin executives agreed to equally split the cost of any concurrency modifications for low-rate-initial-production Lot 5 aircraft. This was the first such arrangement in the program and sets the precedent for burden sharing moving forward.
Despite institutional frustration at the Pentagon over the concurrency problem, Kendall says, “We don’t, at this point, see anything that would preclude continuing production at a reasonable rate.”
Testing, however, is not without its hiccups. After a grounding of six F-35 test aircraft at Edwards AFB, Calif., owing to poorly packed ejection seat parachutes, the Joint Program Office (JPO) announced that AF-1 resumed flying Feb. 3.
The aircraft were grounded because personnel at seat-maker Martin Baker installed some parachutes backward. The “head-box assembly” for AF-1 was installed the morning of Feb. 3 and a crew flew later in the day, JPO spokesman Joe Dellavedova says.
Three more head-box assemblies were expected to be delivered over the weekend and are slated for installation. The F-35 test jets are the first slated to undergo the fix, with the nine training aircraft at Eglin AFB, Fla., next in line. Training operations there have not been affected as the Air Force has not yet given the nod to conduct those flights yet.
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To avoid creating a hollow force, the Defense Department is not going to protect force structure at the expense of needed training and gear, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.
“The military will be smaller and leaner, but it will be agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced; it will be cutting edge,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon as he unveiled more details ahead of the fiscal 2013 budget proposal.
Panetta addressed the media along with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman. Together, they unveiled some of the details from the Pentagon’s new five-year spending plan. The full 2013 budget release is planned for Feb. 13, when President Obama sends his budget request to Congress.
DoD’s plans revealed no sacrificial lambs: all three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are safe; the Navy will maintain 11 aircraft carriers; and the Army’s major vehicle programs are intact.
Instead, to reduce projected spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years, the Pentagon is eliminating what it describes as “poorly performing programs,” while slowing down the production of others. Panetta also said DoD has identified an additional $60 billion in efficiencies.
The first tranche of the spending cuts — $259 billion — will come over the next five years.
These targets conform to the initial spending caps outlined in the Budget Control Act Congress passed by Congress in August.
However, they do not take into account the possibility of sequestration, which would initiate an additional $500 billion cut beginning in January 2013 if Congress does not find an alternative way to reduce the country’s deficit.
Panetta said he hopes that when members of Congress sees what it takes to make this first round of cuts, they will be convinced they need to act in order to avoid sequestration.
Vice Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, who appeared with Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter after Panetta and Dempsey spoke, said DoD had arrived at its budget in a “very healthy way,” crafting strategy before making spending choices.
“Sequestration would reverse that,” he said.
DoD leaders also emphasized that the spending plan should be viewed as a complete package and that changes in one area could adversely affect others.
There is little room for modification to this plan while maintaining the quality of the force and providing troops with the capabilities they need, Panetta said.
In a message most likely for lawmakers, Carter said, “It is a carefully balanced package and therefore can’t be changed or modified piece by piece.”
The five-year plan reflects the new strategic guidance, released Jan. 5, by shifting focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, while maintaining influence in the Middle East.
In 2013, the Pentagon is requesting $525 billion for its base budget, with an additional $88.4 billion for overseas contingency operations. It projects the Defense Department will need $567 billion for its base budget in 2017.
The 2013 base budget represents the first budget to decline in nominal terms since 1998, down from 2012’s $531 billion.
The topline number is directly shaped by the Budget Control Act’s cap on security spending, which is set at $686 billion for 2013. That has to cover funding for the Defense Department as well as the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Veterans Affairs Department.
Panetta reminded reporters that it was a bipartisan Congress that mandated these defense cuts.
The budget document describes the investment choices as “hard but manageable” and places the budget in a historical context, saying that after every major conflict, the U.S. has experienced “significant budget drawdowns.”
The description of reductions, however, had little impact on stock prices, as Wall Street met the news calmly. Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics all saw their stock prices decline by less than 1 percent, while Lockheed Martin and Raytheon saw increases of less than 1 percent. Market analysts had predicted that stock pricing had already assumed significant defense cuts.
FORCE SIZE REDUCTIONS
With the end of war in Iraq and the beginning of a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, there will be further reductions to the ground forces.
Panetta announced the Army will be reduced from 547,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000, while the Marine Corps will be cut to 182,000.
“I’m confident 490,000 is the right number for 2017,” Dempsey said, reminding reporters that this was the number for active duty soldiers and does not include the National Guard and Reserve.
However, “it might not be the right number for 2020,” he added.
The Army also plans to remove at least eight brigade combat teams from its existing force structure.
“Even with these reductions, the Army and Marine Corps will be larger than they were in 2001,” according to the document titled “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices,” which outlines the investment decisions discussed by Panetta and Dempsey.
These reductions in force size do require a corresponding reduction in the military’s facilities resources.
Therefore, the president will request that Congress authorize use of the Base Realignment and Closure process with a goal of identifying savings “that can be reinvested in higher priorities as soon as possible.”
“The best approach to reducing that infrastructure politically on Capitol Hill is to work it through the BRAC process,” Panetta said.
The Pentagon did not tie any savings to potential base closures, because those require congressional authorization.
“If we tied savings to it before Congress authorized it, and they didn’t authorize it, it would undermine our whole budget,” Panetta said.
As for overseas basing, the Pentagon says the Army and Marine Corps will sustain force structure in the Pacific, while “maintaining persistent presence” in the Middle East.
MILITARY SERVICE PLANS
The Pentagon has budgeted to forward station littoral combat ships in Singapore and patrol craft in Bahrain.
It has also provided funding for a new “afloat forward staging base that can be dedicated to support missions in areas where ground-based access is not available, such as counter-mine operations.”
The Army will reduce its current footprint in Europe by two heavy brigades, while establishing and maintaining a new rotational presence in Europe.
With the Defense Department shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific region, the Air Force will maintain the current strategic bomber fleet and will also fund a new bomber program, according to the document.
By doing so, the Pentagon has decided to protect all three legs of the nuclear triad. However, the Navy will have to delay its Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement by two years.
Carter described the submarine’s original schedule as “aggressive, bordering on optimistic.”
The Navy and Marines will also retain their air-power assets, with the sea services retaining all 11 aircraft carriers, 10 carrier air wings, and all of the amphibious assault ships.
All three F-35 Joint Strike Fighter variants are safe, but the Pentagon has decided to slow down procurement to allow for more testing.
Panetta said the Air Force would also continue with its plans to purchase next generation KC-46 tanker aircraft.
DoD will also invest in new air-to-air missiles, new radars for tactical aircraft and ships, more electronic warfare and communications capabilities.
The Navy will build a new “prompt strike option” from submarines and will add cruise missile capacity to its Virginia-class boats.
The Air Force will lose six tactical fighter squadrons and a training squadron, while the Navy loses seven Ticonderoga-class cruisers, one of which has missile defense capability, but which needs a lot of repairs, the budget document says.
One big-deck amphibious ship and a submarine will be delayed. Two smaller amphibious dock landing ships will be decommissioned and their replacements delayed.
The Navy also loses eight joint high speed vessels and two littoral combat ships.
The Air Force is losing the Block 30 version of the Global Hawk, but other variants, namely the Navy’s RQ-4N and Air Force’s Block 40, are safe.
Carter explained that the Block 30 version was supposed to replace Lockheed Martin’s U-2 spy plane but it priced itself out of the niche for taking pictures in the air, Carter said.
“That’s a disappointment for us, but that’s the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment,” he added.
Air mobility takes a hit with 27 C-5A Galaxy airlifters being retired along with 65 older C-130s. The entire C-27 fleet of 38 cargo aircraft is also being scrapped by the Air Force.
However, there will also be investment in advance unmanned aircraft, and the Air Force will gain the capability to operate 65 Predator/Reaper patrols and surge to 85 when needed. Today, the Air Force can fly 61 orbits continuously.
For the Army, the Pentagon has curtailed the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, a floating missile defense sensor.
The Joint-Air-to-Ground-Missile’s funding has been reduced, with money kept in the budget to find a lower cost alternative.
The Army will cancel its effort to recapitalize its Humvee fleet and will instead focus resources on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
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Rolls-Royce will next week deliver the first production-standard F-35B lift fan to be built at its purpose-built lift fan assembly site here.
The $13 million facility was completed in March 2010, but until now has been making components for lift fans as part of the buildup to making the first complete module. The lift fan will be the 12th production unit to be delivered overall.
The site also will supply vane boxes, which form the exit through which air from the lift fan is vectored. As these units are structural parts of the airframe, deliveries run up to 18 months ahead of the lift fan. To date, Rolls has delivered 17 production-standard vane boxes to Northrop Grumman’s fuselage assembly line in Palmdale, Calif. Lift fan modules are sent directly to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 final assembly facility in Fort Worth.
The state-of-the-art lift fan facility is sized for up to seven units per month with one shift, but can provide more in a surge situation. Rolls’ Lift Fan Program Director Gregg Pyers says the company is halfway through deliveries of lift fans ordered for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lot 3 and has all but one vane box still to deliver under LRIP 4.
Pyers says Rolls is working to meet the cost challenge imposed on the F-35B short take-off-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) effort. These include the probation period on the Stovl jet instigated by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as a result of test issues in 2010, as well as smaller overall production resulting from the U.K.’s switch to conventional takeoff F-35C models. “Reduction on volume creates an additional challenge and we are working to offset that,” Pyers says. “But the bottom line is you have lower economies of scale and that’s a cost to overcome. We are working very aggressively but it will be very challenging to remain cost-neutral.”
Slightly more than 400 F-35Bs are currently listed in the provisional orderbook, with around 340 earmarked for the Marine Corps and the balance for Italy. However, additional countries, including Singapore, are expressing interest in the Stovl version, which may help grow overall numbers.
Improvements to the lift system identified as among the problems that led to the probation are also being introduced. Upgrades to the clutch thermal management and driveshaft spacer redesigns will be the first items through the F-35 engineering control board, Pyers says. Evaluation of improvements to the roll posts will take place in December.
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Sen. John Cornyn says he will vote to approve the nomination of a top Pentagon official whom he criticized just three weeks ago for not supporting the F-35 joint strike fighter strongly enough.
At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Cornyn briefly praised Ashton Carter and said he would vote for his confirmation as deputy secretary of defense.
Cornyn’s remarks came after several of his colleagues, notably Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were extremely critical of the F-35 program and pressed Carter on the importance of controlling “intolerable cost overruns.”
On Aug. 24, Cornyn wrote a letter to Carter “to express disappointment with your apparent lack of commitment to the success” of the F-35 and to urge “you to step up your defense of this key program.”
Cornyn was also critical of the Pentagon buying more Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets rather than spending the money on the F-35.
As the Pentagon’s head of weapons acquisition, Carter has had to restructure and rebudget the program twice in two years to compensate for delays and cost increases as Lockheed Martin struggled to get airplanes built and flying.
So what changed in the last three weeks?
“Dr. Carter assured me that the F-35 will form the backbone of U.S. air combat for generations to come, and I applaud him for improving the execution of this critical program,” Cornyn said in a statement issued after the hearing.
Carter wrote a letter to Cornyn in which he largely reiterated his past comments and official Pentagon policy on the F-35. Carter said that there are “no alternatives” to the F-35 as the nation’s principal future warplane and that his “focus is on managing the cost and making decisions now that will affect affordability in the future.”
The twin specters of soaring weapons costs, with the F-35 as the leading culprit, and likely defense budget cuts hang over Carter’s confirmation hearing.
He assured the senators that his primary focus, after getting needed weapons and supplies to troops in the field, will be curtailing costs.
Those threats were manifested when a separate Senate panel, the defense appropriations subcommittee, voted to cut $26 billion from the Pentagon’s $656.8 billion budget request for 2012, including trimming $695 million from the F-35 program.
The subcommittee action is one step in the budget process that will unfold in coming weeks as Congress cuts spending to meet deficit reduction targets mandated last month.
Separately on Monday, Cornyn and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced legislation that would require the Obama administration to allow Lockheed Martin to sell F-16s to Taiwan. The jets would be built in Fort Worth.
“This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.,” Cornyn said in a statement. “Saying no here would mean granting Communist China substantial sway over American foreign policy, putting us on a very slippery slope.”
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Plans about relocating two F-16 squadrons from Luke Air Force Base concerns U.S. Sen. John McCain because it would waste taxpayer money, hamper Air Force pilot training and reduce operations at the Glendale base.
In a letter Tuesday, McCain asked Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to rethink plans to move the squadrons and about 1,000 service members to New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base by 2014.
Among McCain’s concerns:
- The Air Force would have to spend about $47 million to prepare Holloman for the jet fighters.
- F-16 pilots at Holloman would compete for training time with missile, helicopter and unmanned drone training missions.
- Luke could experience a gap in operations if F-16 squadrons are relocated and the F-35 Lightning II training mission, likely slated for Luke, is delayed or reduced by budget cuts.
McCain suggested the Air Force could save money and maintain quality training by cancelling the plan. He said Luke has enough space for both the F-16 squadrons and the F-35 mission and that Air Force pilots get first priority when training at the Barry M. Goldwater Range in southern Arizona.
“We have an obligation to be stewards of the taxpayers’ money and seek savings wherever they can be realized. This planned transfer appears to run counter to this obligation,” McCain wrote.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Air Force officials would respond to McCain as soon as they reviewed the letter and assessed the senator’s concerns.
McCain has criticized the F-16 transfer before but wrote the letter after Arizona residents expressed worries about the plan at each of his town hall meetings this summer, according to spokesman Brian Rogers.
Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said McCain’s letter raised “valid questions” about costs, training and timing.
“Luke has been the Air Force’s preeminent fighter training facility for decades,” she said. “I share the mutual interests of the Air Force and Senator McCain in seeing it remain that way far into the future.”
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For the first time in the history of the Joint Strike Fighter program, a senior Pentagon appointee has raised the question of whether one of the three versions of the Lockheed Martin F-35 should be canceled to save money. The move comes as program leaders and Pentagon cost experts are trying to prepare for a long-delayed Defense Acquisition Board review of JSF, including a comprehensive effort to establish reliable predictions of acquisition and operating costs.
Navy Undersecretary Robert Work told the Navy and Marine Corps in July to provide lower-cost alternatives to the Navy’s current tactical aviation plan, and to examine the consequences of terminating either the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) version or the carrier-compatible F-35C. Work is seeking decisions in time for the 2013 budget submission.
He also directed service leaders to study whether the Navy and Marines could operate fewer than the 40 squadrons of JSFs currently planned (supported by 680 aircraft, divided equally between Bs and Cs) and to look at the possibility of accelerating development of unmanned alternative systems.
The instructions were included in a July 7 memo from Work to Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford. Work told the leaders to form a team to develop three alternative tactical aviation force structures, respectively representing cost savings of $5 billion, $7.5 billion and $10 billion across the future-years defense plan. Ultimately, Work expects to determine “the best value alternative, factoring in both cost and capability.”
“This relook must consider every plan and program,” Work wrote. “Even cuts to long-planned buys of JSF must be on the table.” The team was also tasked to define “the key performance differences between the Block II F/A-18E/F with all planned upgrades, F-35B and F-35C.”
The quick-look analysis was due to be completed three weeks after the memo date; that is, by July 28. That was also the date on which Marine leadership organized a high-profile demonstration of the F-35B’s Stovl capability at the Navy’s Patuxent River, Md., flight test center.
Under Work’s leadership, the Marines and the Navy signed an agreement in March under which the Marines would operate 80 F-35Cs and 340 F-35Bs. Earlier, the Marines had argued that all 420 of their JSFs should be F-35Bs.
Work did not direct the team to assess the economic or operational impact of F-35 program changes on the Air Force or international partners. A reduction in Navy Department orders for both the F-35B and F-35C would increase unit costs. Canceling either version would eliminate some remaining development costs, mostly in flight test, and could lead to increased production of the surviving variant.
The largest international JSF partner, the U.K., changed its plans in October 2010, switching from the B to the C model. If the F-35C were to be canceled, the U.K. would withdraw from the program and “look for a European solution” to its requirement for a carrier fighter, a senior U.K. official said in Washington earlier this month. Italy is the only international partner that plans to operate the F-35B.
Lockheed Martin declined to comment on the memo, saying that it was an internal Navy document. The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) had no immediate comment.
As an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Work coauthored studies that supported the case for early development of a carrier-based unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) with greater range and better stealth characteristics than the F-35.
Currently, there is a debate in Washington about the characteristics of a future Navy UCAV system. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. is still proposing the 15,000-lb. weight class, moderately stealthy Avenger design, while Northrop Grumman confirmed earlier this month that it would be proposing a design similar to its larger and stealthier X-47B. The latter would potentially fill some of the deep-penetration missions that the F-35C is intended to perform.
Boeing, meanwhile, is continuing to work on an improved version of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which would reduce capability and performance gaps between it and the F-35C. The company plans to conduct wind-tunnel tests, late this year or early next, of the conformal tanks, which add 3,000 lb. of fuel, and a centerline weapons pod. General Electric is also offering an Enhanced Performance Engine variant of the Super Hornet’s F414, increasing thrust by as much as 25%.
The F-35B variant remains on probation, under a decree issued by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January. Gates said at the time that problems affecting the aircraft—including the need for a redesigned lift-fan door, driveshaft and clutch mechanisms—would have to be solved without increases in cost or weight. The U.K. government said, in switching from the B to the C variant, that the Stovl aircraft cost more than either the F-35A or F-35C, and U.K. government reports repeatedly described the F-35B’s “bring-back” performance—its ability to land vertically with fuel reserves and unused weapons—as marginal.
Last year, Work suggested in remarks to a Washington forum that forward basing and refueling on improvised airstrips—one of two pillars of the Marine case for the F-35B—would become much more hazardous in the presence of G-RAMM (guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles) threats.
The F-35B’s basing flexibility is also being called into question by unresolved issues about the effects of the fighter’s hot, high-velocity exhaust on ground and deck surfaces. Lockheed Martin and senior Marine leaders have downplayed these issues, stated that the environment under a landing F-35B is almost identical to that of an AV-8B Harrier, and claimed that early 2010 tests confirmed these characteristics.
Navy construction specifications continue to warn that the F-35B will impose temperatures as high as 1700F (several hundred degrees higher than a Harrier exhaust) on vertical-landing pads, with a transonic exhaust velocity. This is enough to cause standard concrete to “spall”—that is, shed surface flakes in a near-explosive manner—with a 50% chance of damage on the first landing.
Navy standards require F-35B landing pads to comprise 100 X 100-ft. slabs of special heat-resistant concrete, poured in one piece and continuously reinforced in two directions. At least one contract has been issued to these specifications since early 2010, when Lockheed Martin asserted that such measures were not necessary.
The Office of Naval Research still has an active program to develop a cooling system for the decks of LHD- and LHA-class ships that will carry F-35Bs, reflecting concerns that thermal expansion and contraction and consequent buckling will cause fatigue and premature failure.
The JPO has not responded to repeated inquiries about the discrepancies between Lockheed Martin’s statements and Navy specifications. Navy engineering organizations have referred all queries to the JPO.
The Defense Acquisition Board review is required in order to renew Milestone B approval of the JSF development and low-rate initial production program—granted in 2001 but rescinded automatically after last year’s critical breach of Nunn-McCurdy cost limits. In May, the review was expected in June, but it was abruptly delayed into the fall.
Any changes in the Navy’s plans will also factor into the board’s review. Among other factors being considered is a trend among international partners to delay deliveries, driven by last year’s slip in the completion of development testing, which will have an impact on production rates, ramp-up plans and costs.
JSF test aircraft were cleared to return to flight on Aug. 18, after a two-week grounding caused by a failure in the integrated power pack (IPP). Production aircraft, including two at Eglin AFB, Fla., and F-35s being prepared for delivery at Fort Worth, remain grounded and restricted from engine and IPP runs.
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For the dozen lawmakers tasked with producing a deficit-cutting plan, the threatened “doomsday” defense cuts hit close to home.
The six Republicans and six Democrats represent states where the biggest military contractors — Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. — build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers.
The potential for $500 billion more in defense cuts could force the Pentagon to cancel or scale back multibillion-dollar weapons programs. That could translate into significant layoffs in a fragile economy, generate millions less in tax revenues for local governments and upend lucrative company contracts with foreign nations.
The cuts could hammer Everett, Washington, where some of the 30,000 Boeing employees are working on giant airborne refueling tankers for the Air Force, or Amarillo, Texas, where 1,100 Bell Helicopter Textron workers assemble the fuselage, wings, engines and transmissions for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Billions in defense cuts would be a blow to the hundreds working on upgrades to the Abrams tank for General Dynamics in Lima, Ohio, or the employees of BAE Systems in Pennsylvania.
For committee members such as Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the threat of Pentagon cuts is an incentive to come up with $1.5 trillion in savings over a decade. Failure would have brutal implications for hundreds of thousands workers back home and raise the potential of political peril for the committee’s 12.
“I think we all have very good reasons to try to prevent” the automatic cuts, Toomey told reporters last week when pressed about the impact on Pennsylvania’s defense industry. “That is not the optimal outcome here, the much better outcome would be a successful product from this committee.”
The panel has until Thanksgiving to come up with recommendations. If they deadlock or if Congress rejects their proposal, $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts kick in. Up to $500 billion would hit the Pentagon.
Those cuts, starting in 2013, would be in addition to the $350 billion, 10-year reduction already dictated by the debt-limit bill approved by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama this month.
Not surprisingly, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has described the automatic cuts as the “doomsday mechanism.” He’s warned that the prospect of nearly $1 trillion in reductions over a decade would seriously undermine the military’s ability to protect the United States.
For the Pentagon, “we’re talking about cuts of such magnitude that everything is reduced to some degree,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank. “At that rate, you’re eliminating the next generation of weapons.”
Committee members will face competing pressures as they try to produce a deficit-reducing plan.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton if Obama wins a second term, Sen. John Kerry is certain to be protective of the budget for the State Department.
Yet the Massachusetts Democrat, who recently said he would seek a sixth term in 2014, represents a state that was fifth in the nation with $8.37 billion in defense contracts this year, behind Virginia, California, Texas and Connecticut, according to data on the federal government’s website USAspending.gov.
In Tewksbury and Andover, Mass., deep defense cuts could have serious ramifications for thousands of Raytheon employees working on the Patriot, the air and missile defense system. It was heralded for its effectiveness during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and is now sold to close to a dozen nations, including South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.
Whatever decisions Kerry and the committee make will affect Massachusetts-based Raytheon, which was fourth in defense contracts this year at $7.3 billion, behind Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics. Raytheon also has operations in Arizona, home to another committee member, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.
“While some will argue there is peril in serving on this committee, we believe there is far greater peril in leaving these issues unaddressed,” Kerry said in a joint statement with Murray and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., after they were selected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
In February, Murray celebrated when the Air Force ended a decade-long saga of delays and missteps and awarded one of the biggest defense contracts ever, a $35 billion deal to build nearly 200 air refueling tankers, to Boeing, a mainstay in her home state.
Boeing was fourth on the list of donors to Murray from 2007-2012, with its political action committee, individual employees and family members contributing $102,610.
Michigan is home to two committee members, Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton, and General Dynamics work on the Abrams tank. The state is struggling with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, which is above the national average.
Already facing the prospect of $350 billion in defense cuts over 10 years, the Pentagon could look to scale back some projects, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the stealthy aircraft that has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.
Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, is building 2,400 of the next generation fighter jet for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as working with eight foreign countries. But the cost of the program has jumped from $233 billion to $385 billion; some estimates suggest that it could top out at $1 trillion over 50 years.
Questioned about the defense cuts, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen recently said that “programs that can’t meet schedule, that can’t meet cost … requirements are very much in jeopardy and will be very much under scrutiny.”
The Joint Strike Fighter is being built in Fort Worth, Texas, and Palmdale and El Segundo, Calif. Those are the states of committee members Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems also have operations in Pennsylvania.
The Pentagon could decide to scrap the program or scale it back while upgrading the existing F-15 and F-18 aircraft, a troubling prospect for lawmakers from the states that benefit from F-35 production.
In the military world, however, reducing the number could make it more costly.
“The problem when you cut back in numbers is you increase the number for one, you increase the cost for one,” said Laicie Olson, a senior policy analyst with Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Sometimes it’s almost better to buy more.”
Boeing, in a statement, said it has been “anticipating flattening defense budgets for some time.” Company spokesman Daniel C. Beck said that while Boeing is trying to improve production and efficiency, it’s moving into new markets such as cybersecurity and energy management.
Air Force, News F-35, F-35 design issue, f-35 joint strike fighter, f-35 jsf, F-35B, f35, F35 problem
The Joint Strike Fighter program office has provided the detail behind defense secretary Robert Gates’ Jan. 6 comment that issues with the STOVL F-35 “may lead to a redesign of the aircraft’s structure and propulsion”.
There are no surprises on the list. The issues detailed by the JPO have been reported on before, and in most cases fixes are in design or in test. They are: lift-fan clutch heating, driveshaft thermal expansion, roll-post heating, lift-fan doors, bulkhead cracking and pilot-vehicle interface issues.
Following the latest replan of the F-35 program, which adds $4.6 billion to development, the JPO tells Amy there is money “to address known discrete improvements” and additional reserves “to address unknown items that may be discovered in developmental flight test”. The program office describes the known issues as “readily solvable through engineering adjustments.”
Lift-fan clutch heating has been addressed by adding a passive cooling circuit to provide cooling air to the clutch in up-and-away flight when the forced-cooling fan used in STOVL mode is turned off.
Lift-system prime contractor Pratt & Whitney says the lift-fan clutch and roll-post actuators can get too warm in certain flight conditions “because the environment surrounding the hardware is more demanding than in the original design”. Sensors are being installed to monitor temperatures.
The driveshaft has been redesigned with a new bellows coupling to accommodate greater-than-predicted variations in length resulting from airframe and propulsion system build tolerances, thermal and pressure growth and maneuver deflection. For the development jets, spacers will match the driveshafts to individual aircraft.
Auxiliary-inlet door hinges have been redesigned to increase durability, and scheduling of the large lift-fan door adjusted – and sideslip flight-control laws refined – to reduce airloads on the doors. Allowable slideslip is now limited above 150kt in semi-jetborne flight.
Cracking of the fuselage bulkhead – switched from titanium to aluminum in the STOVL F-35B to save weight – is being addressed by thickening the bulkhead for production aircraft and by “local blending” on assembled aircraft (all three variants). Lockheed says blending involves machining smoother curves on bends and corners in two small areas of the bulkhead to eliminate stress concentrations and prevent cracks starting.
It’s a longish list, but in many ways the issues look less challenging than those already overcome during design and development of the lift system. I want to address those, too, but rather than drone on and on here, I’ll do a follow-up post looking back over the issues faced during development of the STOVL propulsion system.